Director of Digital Communications and Alumni Programs
Words: Bella McDonald ’24
Photos: Tony Hughes
Growing up as a missionary kid, Josh Okerman ’07 lived in Japan for the first 18 years of his life. His desire for rigorous academics and Christian community led him to Wheaton College after high school graduation. Although Okerman only expected to be at Wheaton for college, God would call him back later to be a bridge builder for a familiar community of students: third-culture kids (TCKs).
After graduating with a degree in business/economics, Okerman took a year to travel the globe, visiting friends spread across a range of countries. This odyssey fostered his love for community—a foundational element to the work he would be doing just a couple of years later.
In 2013, Okerman returned to Wheaton College to serve on the Alumni & Parent Engagement team overseeing the College’s digital communications to alumni. Now, he also manages alumni reunion programs. Early in his Wheaton career, he and his now-wife Mara began hosting twice-monthly dinners for the Wheaton College TCKs, students who have spent a formative part of their lives in a culture different from their parents’ and their own passport country. These nights earned the name “family dinners,” describing a fellowship of TCKs, alumni, grandparents—and now toddlers—over a meal. The size of these dinners grew to 100 people and eventually rounded out to a regular group of 30–40 people.
The Okermans undertook the ministry in response to a felt need for cross-cultural community on campus—during a time when Mu Kappa was only a student club and the International Student Programs (ISP) office had yet to be established. With a knack for connecting people to each other, Josh could welcome students without strong support systems on campus and bridge the gaps. Through the Okermans’ cultivation, family dinners became a place where students could expand their network and be in community with other international students.
“From my own experience, sometimes you just need a space to meet other people,” Okerman said. “That’s always been the thought behind these dinners: to create the environment.”
Eventually, with the forming of the ISP, changing roles, and new kids in the family, family dinners turned into monthly Sunday night dinners. Even as more spaces for community become available, Okerman hopes that others will continue to pass the torch.
“Community is something that is intentionally built and fostered—but it’s also a gift that can be received,” Okerman said. “Giving the gift of friendship is a powerful thing.”